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Rats of casteism gnaw at Bihar politics

While the rigidity of casteism of the past decades is on a steady decline in Bihar, the state’s politics is still caste-driven.

Published: 18th November 2017 10:49 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2017 11:16 AM   |  A+A-

RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav (File | PTI)

PATNA: While the rigidity of casteism of the past decades is on a steady decline in Bihar, the state’s politics is still caste-driven. The brouhaha over a comment by RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav has indicated that caste may play a significant role in the upcoming Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

Yadav, who took identity politics to new heights and ruled Bihar for 15 long years, ruffled the feathers of the ruling JD(U) and BJP by two words he uttered: “bhoora chuhe” (gray-brown rats). After filing nomination papers for his tenth consecutive term as RJD national president, Yadav attacked the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government over “widespread corruption” and said, “River embankments in Bihar have been eaten up by gray-brown rats”.

While Yadav’s mention of rats was, on the surface, a reference to an earlier statement by State Water Resources Minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh, for Bihar’s NDA leaders it was no innocuous phrase. When river embankments were breached during the devastating floods in August, Singh had said rats had weakened them by making holes. But Yadav’s mention of ‘bhoora chuhe’ suddenly set Bihar’s subterranean caste politics astir as upper-caste leaders saw in it a subtle reference to a widely condemned caste slur the RJD chief had allegedly made in the early 1990s.

The syllables ‘Bhu’ and ‘Ra’ in Yadav’s phrase “bhura chuhe” were instantly construed as initials for Bhumihar and Rajput, the two dominant upper castes in Bihar having a sizeable influence in the State’s politics. Lalan Singh is a major Bhumihar leader in JD(U). With most engineers and contractors engaged in the construction of river embankments in Bihar coming from these two castes, Yadav’s remark was seen by many as a deliberate poke at the upper castes in the long run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the early 1990s, Yadav had allegedly coined the slogan ‘BhuRaBaaL Saaf Karo,’ which was widely interpreted as a call to his backward-caste supporters to politically erase Bihar’s four main upper castes—Bhumihar, Rajput, Brahman, and Lala (Kayasthas). Such tactics and the formation of ‘MY axis,’ a Muslim-Yadav alignment, had brought Yadav and his party rich dividends in several polls.

“Yadav’s latest use of such words hints at his desire to revive the era of social tensions in the state. He must know that those times are gone,” said Lalan Singh. BJP leader and Health Minister Mangal Pandey slammed Lalu for “seeking to gain politically by dividing society”.

While CM Nitish Kumar declined to comment on the controversy, several JD(U) and BJP leaders excoriated the RJD chief. While Yadav declined to explain his remarks, analysts said the beleaguered leader may be making fresh efforts to consolidate his backward-caste vote bank and deepen the wedge between social justice and Hindutva in time for the upcoming polls.

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